‘Close, but no cigar’ is quickly becoming the mantra of the 2010 Cleveland Browns. The Browns relinquished a 4th quarter lead en route to a 24-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. In their three losses this season the Browns average margin of defeat is only four points. This has left Browns fans divided in trying to figure out whether they should be encouraged about their teams improved play over last year, or frustrated in cheering for a team that can not seem to figure out ways to win football games.
The number one thing the Browns should take away from this game is that, if nothing else, they can run the ball. Against one of the best defenses in the league, and with little passing game to speak of, Peyton Hillis was able to run for 144 yards on 22 attempts for a 6.4 average. Joshua Cribbs added a crucial 19 yard run that set up the Browns 4th quarter touchdown which would temporarily give them the lead. Credit both the backs for running hard and the offensive line, particularly the left side which is anchored by Joe Thomas one of the best young linemen in the NFL.
In the passing game Seneca Wallace was efficient, yet unspectacular. Statistically Wallace was 18-24 for 141 yards and a TD, but stats often do not tell the whole story. The Browns passing game was never a true threat, as their wide receivers had a hard time getting open all day. In fact, Cribbs was the only Browns receiver who managed to catch a pass, with the rest of Wallace’s completions going to backs and tight ends. Wallace actually deserves credit for keeping a number of plays alive with his speed after the pocket had broken down, which allowed him to find his check down targets for short gains.
In contrast to their encouraging play on offense, the Browns played poorly on the defensive side of the ball. They failed to generate a pass rush, and struggled to cover receivers which is never a good combination. Injuries may have played a part in the Browns nonexistent pass rush. Marcus Benard, who has recorded four sacks in the Browns previous four games dating back to last season, was held out of the game with and ankle injury. The Browns also missed the presence of their big veteran nose tackle Shaun Rogers. In attempt to compensate for their injuries, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan tried a number of risky blitzes to get pressure on Ravens QB Joe Flacco. The Ravens backs and tight ends did a great job helping to pick up the extra rushers and Flacco was able to keep his poise and find Aquan Boldin for 3 touchdown passes.
Costly penalties have been continuing trend which has plagued the Browns this season, and Sunday’s game was no exception. The Browns were flagged six times for a total of 60 yards, each one seeming to come at a backbreaking time. It was not just one or two guys either, each of the Browns three units were flagged including an especially silly foul for the special teams; an offsides on a kickoff which cost them over 15 yards of valuable field position. To put an exclamation point on the fact that the Browns need to stop beating themselves with the penalties, the game ended on a neutral zone infraction on a 3rd down play where the Browns defense was trying to force a Ravens punt to give their offense on last chance to tie the score.
One Browns defensive back who will be under a lot of scrutiny this week is Eric Wright. His failure to stay with Boldin was at times shocking. It is very true the Browns were not generating enough pressure on Flacco, add on top of this that their inability to slow down Ray Rice and the Ravens running game which left them vulnerable to play action, which Flacco went to early and often throughout the game. What was unfathomable though is how Boldin seemed to be so open play after play, as if Wright and the Browns had not heard how dangerous this guy is and how much attention stopping him requires. Often times Wright, who was supposed to be covering Boldin, would not even be in the same area. Give a lot of credit to the Ravens for handling the Browns pass rush, and to Boldin who was clearly a cut above every other player on the field Sunday, but the Browns coaching staff knows that Eric Wright is better than what he showed in this particular game. Wright himself was unable to explain his poor play telling media “I just wasn’t playing like myself.” If it were not for a great play by rookie safety T.J. Ward knocking a ball out of Boldins hands in the end zone, we would be talking about Boldins 4 TD day, as it stands though 3 TDs was good enough to give the Ravens the victory. And for Browns fans, despite his impressive play, Ward’s dropped interception which would have been taken back for a Browns defensive TD on the second play of the game may seem like a microcosm for the Browns season thus far, ‘Close but no cigar’.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.